Introduction and background to the study
The increasing demand for higher education by learners of varying ages world over led to the introduction of distance education (Mayende & Obura, 2013). Education plays a vital role in the development of any nation (Owusu-Ansah & Bubuama 2015) and empowerment of citizens. Kolleen Bouchane, the school's policy and advocacy director of Global Campaign for Education (Their world) cited in Watt (2016) indicated that "Education has a unique power to catalyse gains in other areas of societal transformation. Very few, if any, health or economic interventions will be sustainable without gains in education" (Watt, 2016).
Ugandan Higher Institutions of Learning are grappling with issues of quality assurance. More focus is placed on quality of academic staff, infrastructure and governance issues with little emphasis on quality of library services and other support services. Yet libraries play crucial support service required in universities (Mayende & Obura, 2013). Unfortunately, most libraries are filled with obsolete information resources or insufficient resources (Okwakol, 2008).
The importance of libraries in provision of quality education had been emphasized by former Executive Director of National Council of Higher Education (NCHE), Professor A. B. K Kasozi. According to him "library is a major educational resource of a university institution" (Kasozi, 2003). Because of the vital role libraries play in the learning process, this made the NCHE to develop a framework for Universities to implement. The quality library services and resources as a quality assurance issue is highly ranked by NCHE in the process of accrediting higher institutions of learning and approving an academic programme in Uganda (NCHE, 2014). Unfortunately, little has been done by NCHE to monitor the implementation of the Quality Assurance Framework in already established higher institutions of learning.
Objectives of the Study
The main objective of this study was to investigate operational challenges of providing library services to long distance learners at higher education institutions in Uganda. The specific objectives that guided this study included:
* To find out how convenient the library services offered are to distance learners.
* To find out distance learners' levels of satisfaction with the existing library services and resources.
* To identify challenges to the use of the library by the distance learners.
* To propose strategies for enhancing library service provision for distance learning
Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) is one of the oldest private university in Uganda owned by the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Bishops of Uganda. It's one of the chartered universities in Uganda. The idea of the Catholic University was first conceived in 1940s by the late Archbishop Kiwanuka who was recognised as the Father of Catholic higher education in Uganda. The proposal to start a catholic university was endorsed by the Uganda Episcopal Conference in 1989 and officially the university was launched in 1993 by His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda (Uganda Martyrs University, 2018). The University is located along the Equator at Nkozi, 80 km west of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.
The university which started with only 84 students (28 females and 56 male) and two academic departments in 1993, now has 7 Faculties, 1 Institute, 3 Schools, 3 Directorates; and about 5,000 students, of whom about 2,500 are distant learners and part-time students (Uganda Martyrs University, 2018). The university also has study centres in Kabale, Masaka, Mbale, Lira, and Kampala campus. The university's main library is found in the main Campus in Nkozi and it is named after Archbishop Kiwanuka. The students of UMU come from all over the World; Canada, USA, the Netherlands, Germany, etc. Many of the foreign students come from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, DRC, South Sudan, Eriteria, Ethiopia, and Angola. Most of these students are part time and distant learners.
Distance education learners and library services
The Ugandan higher institutions of learning are unevenly distributed in the country, majority of the universities are located within Kampala and the surrounding districts which disadvantages the majority poor Ugandans. The problem is further complicated by limited physical infrastructure like class rooms to accommodate the ever increasing number of learners (Basaza & Milman, 2010). The demand and desire to attain postsecondary education qualifications in Uganda has overwhelmed most popular universities in Uganda. In order to cope up with the high demand, some universities introduced long distance education (Basaza & Milman, 2010). The tremendous developments in technology recently in Africa is major push factors for the development of distance learning system according to Owusu-Ansah & Bubuama (2015).
Adetimirin & Omogbhe (2011) described distance learning as a formal learning that the student and the teacher are on different locations outside the mother learning institution with minimum physical contact. In affirmation, Mayende and Obura (2013) added, distant learning is a kind of schooling that involves part-time study where the learners are far from their study main institutions and involving short face-to-face period due to family and employment commitments (Mayende & Obura, 2013).
Distance education is delivered in various ways world over, either through, 1) the use of technology (online classes) which is fit in event that the student and instructor are physical separated (Bada, 2015); 2) traditional face-to-face classroom instruction whereby the faculty travel to off-campus centres to deliver lectures in a class room (Slade, 1991) or; 3) by use of carefully developed course modules that learners study on their own and only meet for a short time for example week (s) for face-to-face (Slade, 1991).
Provision of library and information services is an essential support service that should be rendered effectively so that distance learners obtain quality education (Owusu-Ansah & Bubuama, 2015). Quality Education is achievable in universities if the students and their lecturers have access to sufficient textbooks, quality journals and other library resources useful for supporting teaching and learning, and research (Owusu-Ansah & Bubuama, 2015; Coonin, Williams & Steiner, 2011; Wolpert, 1998). Libraries according to Saleh (2014), are required catalysts for provision of quality distance education.
Due to the distance between the learners and their lectures, the demand for academic information and learning resources is high by these learners (Mayende & Obura, 2013). In the past, Makerere University College of Education and external studies, Kyambogo University and Uganda Martyrs created study centres with libraries and partnered with public libraries and Primary Teachers Colleges to provide some library services to their distant learners (Mayende & Obura, 2013; Oladokun 2002 & Otto, 2011).
The study centres are believed to provide all information resources and services required by all distant learners (Wachira & Onyancha, 2016), but Oladokun (2002) study found out that the Ugandan distance learners were not satisfied with the quality of service and library resources provided to them in those centres. Oladokun further reported that, the users of the study centres cited challenges in using those libraries in their academic work and few of them use those libraries. In Mayende and Obura (2013) study, it was found that the distance learners easily access relevant library resources and services only during face-to-face sessions as compared to the services offered at the study centres. Mayende and Obura, further opined that a lot of efforts have been put to stock on-campus libraries with better services and resources than the off-campus or study centres.
To ensure quality service provision in the off-campus libraries, Abdelrahman (2011) proposed establishment of appropriate library and information support services that meet the needs of distance learners. Study centre libraries should be stocked with relevant learning resources both in...